Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary commonly called Candlemass Day
On this day the Church solemnly celebrates the presentation of Jesus in the temple, and the obedience and humility both of Mary and her divine Son, who, though not subject to the law in regard to purification and presentation, yet subjected themselves to it. Hence this feast is called the Purification of the Virgin Mary. In common speech we call it also Candlemass, because on this day the candles required for the divine service are blessed and carried in procession.
What is the design of this custom?
1. It is to remind us that Jesus, the light of the world, was offered up to His heavenly Father, by Mary, in the temple at Jerusalem, where He was called by Simeon a light for the revelation of the gentiles, and the glory of the people of Israel.
2. To remind us, also, of several important truths, to which the priest refers in the prayers at the blessings. Thus he prays that as the earthly light dispels the darkness of night, so Jesus, with the light of His divine doctrine, may clear away our spiritual blindness and ignorance, and lead us in the way of virtue; that as the Holy Ghost enlightened Simeon, so He may also enlighten us to acknowledge Jesus as the true light, to love Him and follow Him, to keep our hearts from the way of sin, and to guide them in the way of virtue, and to kindle them with the fire of holy love; finally, that God may preserve, in soul and body, those who use blessed candles with devotion, may hear their prayers, and grant them entrance into the kingdom of the eternal and ever-blessed light.
In the Introit of the Mass the Church sings:
“We have received Thy mercy, O God, in the midst of Thy temple; according to Thy name, O God, so also is Thy praise unto the ends of the earth; Thy right hand is full of justice. Great is the Lord and exceedingly to be praised in the city of our God, in His holy mountain.”
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.
Almighty, everlasting God, we suppliantly beseech Thy majesty that, as Thy only-begotten Son was this day presented in the temple in the substance of our flesh, so Thou wouldst grant us to be presented to Thee with purified souls, Through the same Lord Jesus Christ, etc.
Epistle: Malachi 3:1-4
Thus saith the Lord: Behold I send My angel, and he shall prepare the way before My face. And presently the Lord Whom you seek, and the angel of the testament whom you desire, shall come to his temple. Behold he cometh, saith the Lord of hosts: and who shall be able to think of the day of his coming? and who shall stand to see him? for he is like a refining fire, and like the fullers’ herb: and he shall sit refining and cleansing the silver, and he shall purify the sons of Levi, and shall refine them as gold, and as silver, and they shall offer sacrifices to the Lord in justice. And the sacrifice of Juda and of Jerusalem shall please the Lord, as in the days of old, and in the ancient years, saith the Lord Almighty.
Gospel: Luke 2:22-32
At that time: After the days of Mary’s purification according to the law of Moses were accomplished, they carried Jesus to Jerusalem, to present Him to the Lord, as it is written in the law of the Lord: Every male opening the womb shall be called holy to the Lord; and to offer a sacrifice according as it is written in the law of the Lord, a pair of turtle-doves, or two young pigeons. And behold there was a man in Jerusalem named Simeon, and this man was just and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel: and the Holy Ghost was in him. And he had received an answer from the Holy Ghost, that he should not see death before he had seen the Christ of the Lord. And he came by the Spirit into the temple. And when His parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for Him according to the custom of the law: he also took Him into his arms, and blessed God, and said: Now Thou dost dismiss Thy servant, O Lord, according to Thy word, in peace; because my eyes have seen Thy salvation, which Thou hast prepared before the face of all peoples; a light to the revelation of the gentiles, and the glory of Thy people Israel.
The Blessed Virgin presented herself and her divine Son at the temple so as not to give scandal to such as were ignorant of their being exempt from the law, to show from the first that Jesus was come to redeem sinners, and to leave us an example of humility and obedience. Mary offered the gift of a pair of doves, like the poor, because she was poor, and was not ashamed to acknowledge it before the world.
Instruction for Women after Childbirth
The law of purification in the Old Testament, it is true, no longer applies to Christian women, because the Church has done away with Jewish ceremonies. But the spirit and intention of that law the Church would yet have complied with. She permits women, therefore, to remain at home, with a good conscience, for six weeks after childbirth, or so long as circumstances may require, without attending divine service, in order to care for their health. This permission is, at the same time, an excellent admonition to women, that, in order to their recovery, they should refrain from anger, from exposure, from hard labor, from injurious food; to men, not to refuse their wives during this period, set apart by God Himself under the Old Law, the rest and attention which their nature requires.
But when this time is past the Church desires that women should, after the example of Mary, repair to the church with their children, to procure the blessing of the priest, to give thanks to God for their safe delivery, to dedicate their children to Him, and to implore of Him, with the priest, grace to bring up their offspring in piety and holiness. In this consists the so-called “churching of women”; and, from what has been said, it is evident, not only that it contains nothing to be ashamed of, but that it should by no means be omitted by such as desire God’s blessing.
The feeble health of both women and children after child-birth is almost always owing to their having injured themselves by want of care.